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Railroaded Part Three - Pressing U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson on the Norfolk Southern Disaster in East Palestine

And how to gaslight a child - D.C. style
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Scroll down for a full transcript of the video.


John’s Journal

This is where I scribble a little about the last week around here. Warning: may include righteous anger and typos.

Many things stand out from my trip to the town hall in East Palestine a few days ago. For instance, Norfolk Southern’s failure to show up for an event *they helped plan* in a town where they detonated a train full of toxic chemicals, citing “not feeling safe” as their reason for absence. 

Do you hear that sound? It’s a rash-engulfed child crushing pennies on the railroad tracks and laughing at the sheer audacity of Norfolk Southern to not show. A pox on their house. 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t this that stood out most.  Nor was it the bright red, pad-locked plastic cages blocking the water fountains with “danger” written on them in seven different languages. 

Anyone have bolt cutters? They say it’s safe to drink.

No. Unfortunately, what sticks out most in my mind is witnessing a geriatric United States Congressman expertly gaslight a child with a strange anecdote about peeling an orange. 

United States Congressman from Ohio’s 6th District and Dixon No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil left over from the 1940s, Bill Johnson. Unaffactionaly dubbed BOJO. 

The kid asked the best question all night. In front of his whole community, packed into an auditorium seething with rage and the potential energy only severe injustice can conjure from an otherwise sleepy rural town, he took the mic and asked “how are us kids supposed to feel safe when it smells bad outside.” 

Yeah… Yeah. How are they supposed to do that? 

Bill Johnson grabbed the mic and took the tone of a strict father explaining why he doesn’t sleep at the house anymore. He told the child that the Volatile Organic Compounds they smelled were a bit like peeling an orange over the sink. The orange smells. But it’s not going to kill you. 

It’s like peeling an orange.

My head nearly exploded into pink mist. The sheer power imbalance was too much. The equating of orange peels and molten vinyl chloride was a circle I just could not square. 

Bill Johnson rode the Tea Party wave of 2010 all the way to Congress. He was the perfect man for the job - an unremarkable old white guy with a military background who could occupy a seat, made safe for Republicans *by* Republicans, and vote as the higher-ups instructed. What else would a man like this do? Retire? There’s an ass for every seat and Congress has 535 of them. 

On the way to the town hall, my girlfriend and camera-woman extraordinaire did some cocktail napkin math. Bill Johnson has accepted at least $18,000 dollars over his career in Congress from the Norfolk Southern PAC. 

Camera-woman and cocktail napkin math extraordinaire Jessica Roi

When I caught up with him, he was doing his best Jimmy Stewart impersonation, feigning sincerity to a citizen taking him to task over the railroad donations. He looked her straight in the eyes and said “they don’t own me. I work for you.” 

Then he turned to me, and that’s how this edition’s video came to be. Keep scrolling for the transcript. Get in touch if you’re a rail worker. More next week as we keep an eye out for NTSB updates. 

Love, 

JR 


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Video Transcript

John Russell 0:00

So I went up to East Palestine and caught up with our Congressman. I grew up in that county and I live in the district now. He was at the town hall about the Norfolk Southern disaster. So I asked him some questions, starting with technical stuff and ending with... money stuff. Here it is.

John Russell 0:14

I looked a lot into Precision Scheduled Railroad, and I want to know, what do you think the Surface Transportation Board should do about PSR?

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 0:24

That's a good question. I'll take your question on board. I do not sit on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. So I am not familiar with that area. What they should do is stop things like this from happening. We'll have to wait until the report comes out. And then we can start digging into that. That's what my commitment is.

John Russell 0:45

Do you believe the rail workers should have struck? And did you vote to impose a contract on the rail workers?

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 0:51

That is not related to this crash here tonight. I'm not going to get into those kinds of political questions here. This is not about politics. This is about meeting the needs and concerns of the people in East Palestine. So let's address those questions another time.

John Russell 1:05

Except it is related. Rail workers have been warning about something like this for a long time. They have been doing more work with less people, dealing with cuts across the board to safety, training, maintenance, and staff - all so the company can pile up a ton of money. And about that company money...

John Russell 1:22

You've taken about $18,000 from Norfolk Southern PAC. Are you gonna take money from Norfolk Southern going forward?

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 1:28

We're done. We're done with the conversation. I just told you. We're not going to talk politics here tonight. That's not what this is about.

John Russell 1:36

Why not?

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 1:37

Because we're talking about what's right for the people of East Palestine.

John Russell 1:40

Do you think that's not a political issue?

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 1:42

(walks away)

John Russell 1:43

This is what happens when you get a little too close to the truth with these guys. And I don't blame them for being uncomfortable. Because right before we talked, he said this to a resident as she was grilling him to a crisp.

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 1:54

They don't own me. They don't own me. I work for you. I don't work for them.

John Russell 2:00

Sure you do.

John Russell 2:01

Here's something to think about. Bill Johnson is in a safe seat because of gerrymandering, where politicians pick their voters by drawing districts their party is all but guaranteed to win, it's essentially impossible for anyone but a Republican to win Bill Johnson's district. So if you're a big corporate donor, why would you pour money into a race that's already locked up? Since that money isn't needed to compete for votes, the most likely explanation is that it buys influence. Say from a congressman who oversees regulators, who oversee your business.

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 2:32

They don't own me. They don't own me. I work for you. I don't work for them.

John Russell 2:37

Sure you do.

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) 2:38

We're done. We're done with the conversation. I just told you. We're not going to talk politics here tonight.

Someone on TikTok made their own version of this video from my livestream

Check it. Thanks, josh.x

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